The Friends of the Princeton Public Library Book Club is reading In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. Join them on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm to be part of the discussion.
In 1933 William E. Dodd led a comfortable but not altogether satisfying existence as a history professor at the University of Chicago. What he longed for was a position that would pay well but also allow him time to complete his masterwork, a four-volume history of the Old South. After offering the position to several other candidates who declined, President Roosevelt selected Dodd, who had studied in Germany, to be ambassador there. Dodd pulled up stakes, bringing his wife, son, and daughter with him to Berlin. Hitler and his Nazi Party had recently gained control of the government, and they were relentlessly working to consolidate their power over the nation. Larson, best known for his acclaimed The Devil in the White City (2003), has written a brilliant and often infuriating account of the experiences and evolving attitudes of the Dodd family during Hitler’s critical first year in power. Dodd is seen here as a decent but frustratingly naive figure who keeps obtusely expecting “moderate” Nazis to emerge, even as the outrages against Jews and even American citizens intensify. His 24-year-old daughter, Martha, is attractive, flirtatious, and initially entranced by the apparent dynamism and revolutionary spirit of the Nazis. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, the Dodds seem almost criminally ignorant, but Larson treats them with a degree of compassion that elevates them to tragic status.— (Booklist review by Jay Freeman)